50th Anniversary Edition
Issue 61
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February 8, 2006


Italian PA manufacturers might seem obscure, but their experience runs as deep as the national soccer team. Montarbo is the latest company to take to the field.

Text: Grahame Harrison

I think the time has come to write a letter to the Prime Munster, Little Jaunty Howeird, requesting that a small team of investigators be sent to Europe. Their mission would be to ascertain just exactly how many ‘hidden’ audio manufacturers actually exist, especially in Italy! I can steer them towards another one that has just popped up on my radar: Montarbo.

According to the company’s website (which is definitely worth a visit), Sergio Montanari started to ‘builda-da-box’ in the 1950s. In the ’60s, Montarbo produced a unique device, a powered mixer with a great case, which featured drop-down sides that formed a stand. It had a 100W amp and a truly amazing ‘magnetic memory’ echo unit. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but they were also into self-powered speakers, a long way ahead of the rest of us.

Montarbo quickly grew to such a size that the boss stopped ordering out for pizzas and built his own kitchen, complete with gourmet chef! Well, that’s what I would have done. Today the creative team at Bologna are a highly skilled force and it shows in the company’s products. Which leads me to the W400A – the punchy, polyethylene pitbull speaker system from the professors of predatory power provision. In other words, the techs have done the boss proud – except it looks like a pitbull!

The W400A wouldn’t win a beauty contest if its name was Elle and the entire judging panel was tripping! The woofer looks okay behind its steel protection grille but the top of the box is pretty unattractive, for mine. Oh well, we’re not getting married so I’ll skip the personal taste section to get to the (very) good bits. Pretty it ain’t, but tough it is! And it’s got grunt. The 12-inch woofer with its neodymium magnet is light in weight but cops 300W up the chute. The horn with its 90° x 70° dispersion can handle 100W easily and crosses over at 1600Hz. It has two carrying handles and only weighs 18.5 kilos. There are six flying points on each box and they can be stacked on top of each other or hung in a sling of no more than three boxes deep.

The W400A features two MOSFET Class A/B amplifiers that are controlled by two independent processors. Montarbo calls its exclusive protection circuit the Intelligent Power Dynamic Management system (IPDM). This system allows for maximum protection from thermal, electrical and mechanical overloads. And it works! I put the boxes through myriad tests including acoustic duos, club dance reinforcement, a school musical (where I had a run-in with one mother who kept telling me how to get her six-year-old daughter to sound like Mariah Carey all night!) and even the sound at an outdoor film showing. They sounded great in each situation.

But the big test was last weekend when the local heavy/grunge/metal/garage/hard rockin’ kings of the big riff, The Crimson Project, tried their best to kill them at the Moonee Tavern… and survived! So did the boxes! I used them as monitors and they performed excellently. During the week, the Plantation Hotel in Coffs Harbour hosted the truly excellent Dallas Crane whose singer is apparently severely encumbered hearing-wise. The Mackie powered boxes being used as monitors went thermal! Five out of six conked out! No such misfortune befell the Montarbo boxes. They also sounded very flat, which meant that the operator only had to tweak them slightly. All three bands on the night (the others were Scary Clowns and Seeking Asylum) loved them as well.

I was pleased with the ‘throw’ of the boxes and their ability to fill a room. They’re easy to transport and even feature a circuit board drawing on the back in case you’re stranded somewhere. The rear of the box also features sensible controls, the traditional Neutrik Combo XLR/jack input and another balanced XLR output. There is a master volume control and a handy ‘mid controller’ rotary knob, which allow for a mid boost or cut. The ‘flat filter’ switch is good when using the W440A as a monitor speaker. The ‘SPK’ switch enhances midrange too. The W440A even has a ground socket on the rear in case you have earthing problems. Clever.

The Montarbo people have also included one of the most sensible manuals I’ve ever come across. It’s detailed, very well written with clear drawings and no obvious spelling mistakes (other manufacturers take note!). You also get a free 10-metre XLR microphone lead so you can actually run signal to the box. No other manufacturer provides a mic lead as far as I know, only a power lead (and that’s sometimes a European IEC lead by mistake). There are no mistakes with the Montarbo. It’s a well-presented package that sounds fine, has the hallmarks of a product built on quality and is bound to find a niche among the overwhelming number of competitors.

The W440A’s recommended retail price of $2499 (each) is reasonably justified, although I still think it’s too much too pay and I apply that logic to all Montarbo’s competitors as well. I suppose there’s always the option of belting a dealer over the head with a bundle of cash to get a better price. Margins are there to be bargained with after all.


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50th Anniversary Edition
Issue 61